What would you do if someone you love was given less than a day to live? It’s a real-life scenario that Joyce Smith faced in 2015 when her son fell through the ice of a Missouri lake and was given a bleak prognosis for survival.
Breakthrough is an upcoming feature film based on Smith’s story and her 2017 memoir The Impossible, starring Chrissy Metz (This is Us), Topher Grace (BlacKkKlansman), and Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and PEOPLE has an exclusive first look at the trailer above.
Metz plays Smith in the film, a loving Missouri mother who experienced the harrowing ordeal of not knowing whether or not her son John would live to see another day.
The actress, 38, tells PEOPLE she was a bit intimidated to take on the role of a real-life person, her first, but that the experience proved to be “really emotional” in all the right ways.
“To play a real person is very different than creating your own character,” Metz says. “There’s all this pressure, like I want to tell the story appropriately and I want to do it justice.”
The This Is Us star says she was pleasantly surprised by the feedback she received from Smith about her performance.
“Joyce was very sweet and said, ‘You got my mannerisms down.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ Because I didn’t spend much time with them — probably a couple hours eating lunch in the afternoon. Just her heart, that’s what you really want to get across,” Metz recalls. “She was pleasantly surprised and even shocked in some of the ways I portrayed her which was the nicest, most wonderful compliment I think I could ever get.”
The actress admits to feeling intimidated by the role, but grateful that she had the opportunity to help bring Smith’s story to the big screen.
“It’s really intimidating because you do want them to feel good about [your performance]. Obviously, nothing is going to be perfect, but you want them to feel like you captured their essence, that was my objective,” she explains. “It was definitely challenging, it’s very emotional and there’s a lot going on. I heard [Smith] is very happy, phew, thank goodness. But it was very, very challenging, mentally.”
The film also stars Dennis Haysbert, Josh Lucas and Sam Trammell. NBA star Stephen Curry also serves as executive producer via his production company Unanimous Media.
Breakthrough arrives in theaters Easter 2019.
- With reporting by KAREN MIZOGUCHI